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Archive for September, 2013

On episode 5 of the Film Don’t Hurt podcast Kai and Dylan talk about a list devised on The Vulture of the best 25 action movies since die hard. You can see what they came up with HERE. While I don’t disagree with any of there list (except Suppercop that I haven’t seen) I have my own ideas so thought I would come up with my own list. Die Hard is probably my favourite action movie. I have stated many times that it reinvented the genre. While this is largely true, if you look at it from a different point of view, it also killed the genre. Through the 70’s and 80’s action meant big men like Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Lundgren. With Die Hard Bruce Willis made it possible for the everyman to be an action hero. Then through the 90’s things changed with the rise of comic book movies and directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich who just want to blow shit up. I like comic book movies but am a board of blowing shit up movies as reflected in my list. It was surprisingly difficult, there are at least another fifteen movies I would have liked to have included. I couldn’t decide on the order for the list. The best movies or the ones that represent the genre best. I decided to go for a chronological list, firstly for simplicity but I also think it gives an interesting overview of the changes in the genre. I used the same three simple rules:

Not every movie with action in it is an action movie. (it had to be a film that wouldn’t make any sense if you took all the action scenes out)

Only one film per franchise.

No animation.

Nikita (1990)nikita
Total Recall (1990)Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)Terminator 2 Judgment Day
Point Break (1991)Point-Break Utah and Bodhi
Hard Boiled (1992)hard boiled
Speed (1994)Speed
The Crow (1994)The Crow
Desperado (1995)Desperado
Run Lola Run (1998)Run Lola Run
Taxi (1998)taxi
The Matrix (1999)The Matrix
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gladiator (2000)Gladiator
Battle Royale (2000)Battle Royale
Blade II (2002)Blade 2
The Bourne Identity (2002)The Bourne Identity
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)uma thurman kill bill
District 13 (2004)District 13
Serenity (2005)river
Batman Begins (2005) (I prefer The Dark Knight but Batman Begins is more of an action film)Batman Begins
Casino Royale (2006)Casino Royale
Apocalypto (2006)Apocalypto
300 (2006)300
Doomsday (2008)Rhona Mitra Doomsday
Avengers Assemble (2012)Marvel Avengers Assemble
 

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As I listened to the radio on my drive to work on Monday a news story got me thinking. Reporting on the previous nights Primetime Emmys the main topic of conversation was the lack of British success. Those expecting a Downton Abbey landslide were disappointed, personally I was more disappointed at the lack of recognition for Luther (that received four nominations in 2012) but that’s a different conversation. The thing that interested me was two of the winning programs:Downton Abbey

American political drama House of Cards is based on the BBC miniseries of the same name from the early 90’s famous for introducing the phrase: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” Like the original series has been described as examining issues of ambition, power, and corruption in the vein of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III. Unlike the original that was made screened on the BBC, the American version was made by independent production company MRC (Media Rights Capital) and most interestingly premiered on Netflix after outbidding HBO, Showtime and AMC. It is also available via Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV services.House of Cards

It has been reported that Steven Soderbergh and Michael Douglas had first discussed a Liberace Biopic as far back as 2000 during the production of Traffic. When they finally came up with an angle for the story they struggled to secure funding, Soderbergh claiming Hollywood studios found it “too gay.” Eventually they HBO Films stumped up $23million and Behind the Candelabra was made. While it received a UK cinema release in America it premiered on HBO.Behind the Candelabra

These programs may not seem that significant in the greater scheme of film and television, but when you think about it they represent the biggest change in the media’s for a long time. What they boil down to, is a film premiering on TV and a TV show premiering online. Made for television movies are nothing new, but with A list stars and directors it has a different feel to it. As for the online world Amazon/Lovefilm have already got in on the act with their own programs. In future are companies like these going to use TV shows rather than their film content to win customers?

 I would still rather watch movies on the big screen of the cinema and a laptop computer is the only device I have capable of streaming TV and films. This is why I am not the main target audience for either of these changes, but I will still be watching them with interest.

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For the second time since I started writing blind spot posts I really was blindsided by a movie. I recently purchased a box set of Billy Wilder movies, all of which I had seen before, or so I thought. As I started watching Witness for the Prosecution (1957) I quickly realised I had never seen it before. To be honest I think I had had mixed it up with Double Indemnity (1944 – also directed by Billy Wilder) or Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959).witness for the prosecution charles laughton

On release from hospital barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) is ordered to take it easy by doctors and his overpowering private nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa – Bride of Frankenstein – Lanchester, Laughton‘s real life spouse). Despite this, he agrees to take the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole has been charged with the murder of Mrs. Emily French (Norma Varden), a rich, older widow who he stands to inherit a fortune from. Things are complicated when it is revealed that Voles wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) is going to be a witness for the prosecution.witness for the prosecution marlene dietrich

Starting life as a play by Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution had already clocked up more than a thousand performances in the West End and on Broadway. With the help of screenwriters Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus , Wilder manages to concoct a mystery that Hitchcock would have bee proud of. The announcement at the end: “The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” And the tagline on the poster: “You’ll talk about it, but please don’t tell the ending.” Aren’t that far removed from Hitchcock stunts.Witness for the Prosecution Tyrone Power

A courtroom dram with lots of twists and turns is nothing new, you have probably seen countless times before, but this movie is over fifty years old, so many of the other movies we have seen have been influenced by this. Like so many Wilder movies, one of the keys to its success is the perfect casting. Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Elsa Lanchester are all brilliant but Charles Laughton is in a different world, I would go as far as to say I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. The sublime performances coupled with the measured direction allow for the near impossible task of making the twists interesting even if you see them coming. The result of this despite the pleas marketing people, viewers who know the plot aren’t disadvantaged by knowing the plot making me keen to see the movie again. And thanks to Laughton and Wilder, although far from a comedy the movie is full of funny moments.witness for the prosecution Elsa Lanchester

Full of all the twists and turns you would expect from Christie coupled with the perfect pacing and brilliance of Wilder. The ending is as brilliant and perfect as you would expect of Wilder.

Check out other Blind Spot posts HERE

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As I sit watching the second episode of Peaky Blinders I can’t help thinking about the fundamental difference between British and American television drama. On first sight British television is the poor relation. While an American show will run for more than twenty episodes to a season more often than not any British program with high production costs will only get six episodes per season. The best examples of this are The Hour (12 over two seasons), Case Histories (9 episodes over 2 seasons) and Luther (14 episodes over 3 seasons). . What they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. I am not saying British shows are better than American ones, clearly they are not in comparison to programs like Justified, Mad Men and The Wire. However the restraint and constraint of the short seasons allow the best shows to remain fresh, original and leave the audiences wanting more. This becomes more evident when you look at shows like CSI, The Sopranos and Lost who all started well but lost their way.4482400-high_res-peaky-blinders.jpg

So how is Peaky Blinders shaping up? Whilst not up to the best of British or American drama mentioned above, it is certainly an enjoyable program that is building and unfolding nicely. Cillian Murphy is very good in the lead role despite his inconsistent Birmingham accent but is overshadowed by the excellent Helen McCrery (who depending on your point of view is best know as either Damian Lewis’ or Narcissa Malfoy). The format is as much an urban western as family dram or gangster show.  The production design excellent giving a believable post World War 1 inner city setting. And that is the interest for me, the setting. While the setting for British film and television has diversified and moved away from just London in recent years one location has been mostly overlooked, my home city Birmingham. An industrial city in the heart of England and at the forefront of the industrial revolution, Birmingham built cars and motorcycles are know all over the world, as the music of Birmingham bands but it is a city that has never made a dent in film and television.Peaky Blinders

And that takes us back to the start, when it comes to film and television, England’s second city has an identity crisis and an inferiority complex, just like British television drama. The BBC or ITV (responsible for Downton Abbey) simply can’t compete with AMC, HBO and Fox for budget this doesn’t stop people comparing British show being compared to or described in relation to bigger American shows and thus, Peaky Blinders is the British Boardwalk Empire. There are certainly similarities, but there are also big differences. Set at a similar time in two very different places, they are actually worth watching together.

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riddick movie posterBack in 2000 I was lucky enough to see a preview of Pitch Black about six months before it went on general release. Director David Twohy succeeded in creating a sci-fi action adventure with elements of horror that was both engaging and containing some original ideas, most importantly he did it on a relatively low budget. The cast consisted of largely unknown actors, Vin Diesel was at the time best know for a small part in Saving Private Ryan or as the voice of The Iron Giant, the rest of the cast were vaguely recognisable from TV. The reason the movie worked so well was a combination of factors. With just enough exposition to help us understand the setting, the movie got on with its business from the start introducing an array of interesting characters with believable if lightly sketched back stories, the key all these characters were flawed in some way. The heroes weren’t very heroic and the villains had redeeming features. The creatures they found themselves up against were both original and well conceived. The lack of stars made it impossible to tell who would survive and who wouldn’t. It was fresh and original and offered something we hadn’t seen since Alien more than two decades before. Unfortunately all the great work was undone by a terrible sequel. The Chronicles of Riddick was the right thing to do in theory, take the character from Pitch Black and put him in a new scenario telling a new story and exploring the character further. Sadly it just didn’t work, the idea was too big and grand for the execution and most seriously it changed the character too much, that and the fact the film was dull as hell. Costing twice as much to make as Pitch Black and Riddick put together, it was a self indulgent folly.Pitch Black & the chronicles of riddick

It therefore came as a surprise that Diesel and Twohy were re-teaming for a third instalment. Happily the plot contrives to put Riddick back in a similar environment to the first movie and it returns to a relatively low budget. Betrayed by the Necromongers (see The Chronicles of Riddick if you really want to know who they are. The new film will still make sense if you skip that instalment) and left for dead on a planet that turns out to be “Not Furya” (Furya, being Riddick’s lost and forgotten home planet). This first act is a risk as it is light on dialogue other than a dour voiceover, but it really works and is possibly the best part of the film. As Riddick rediscovers himself as the character we fist met he finds a way off the planet by luring bounty hunters to catch him. As this unfolds we get an interesting second and third act culminating in something reminiscent of but just different enough from Pitch Black.Riddick

The film has its problems notably Katee Sackhoff as Dahl. She is the most interesting new character in the movie and looks at times like she will be as important to the plot as Radha Mitchell in Pitch Black. Unfortunately the character is underused and at time only exists for titillation or comedy. She is also the subject of some misjudged dialogue where the filmmakers can not decide if Riddick is the sociopath killer we were first told or a roguish anti hero. Then there is a possibly unnecessary connection to Pitch Black that becomes distracting as the actor involved is about twenty years too young to play this character. These are small complaints as anyone watching this is here to see Riddick and not the supporting players.Katee-Sackhoff-in-Riddick-2013-Movie

The end result is a film that is far from the great original film but a vast improvement and a return to form in comparison to the misjudged first sequel. It is stage two of Vin Diesel returning to the characters that made him successful. In 2009 he returned to The Fast and the Furious franchise after sitting out the first two sequels (except for an after credits cameo). The final instalment of this renaissance is due in a couple of years with XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. As for Riddick, as mentioned it has its problems but also has its moments, fans of either of the first two movies will probably like it, it will also hopefully introduce a new audience to the character who will go on to see Pitch Black.Riddick 2013

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From gratuitous violence to clever satire via a couple of young adult novel adaptations it has been another varied month, this is what I watched:

Only God Forgives: Revenge thriller set against the backdrop of Bangkok’s underworld. An oppressive and overpowering film that tonally shares more with director Nicolas Winding Refn’s earlier film Valhalla Rising (2009) than with the film it is constantly compared to Drive (2011). Ryan Gosling is good but overshadowed by Vithaya Pansringarm and Kristin Scott Thomas.Only God Forgives

The Conjuring: A surprisingly old fashioned horror movie from James Wan the director of the first Saw movie. A great cast including Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Lili Taylor combined with a good balance and suspense and jumps make a surprisingly enjoyable horror movie.The Conjuring

RED 2: The team from RED are back and are joined by Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee and Catherine Zeta-Jones. More of the same disposable fun. If you liked the first one, you will like this.RED 2

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa: After more than twenty years on TV and radio, Steve Coogan’s alter ego Alan Partridge makes his movie début. Very silly and very funny.Alan Partridge Alpha Papa

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: The second instalment of the reinvention of Greek mythology series. If you like the first movie you will probably enjoy this as it is basically more of the same. There are less cameos than in the first movie but this is made up for by a very funny Nathan Fillion.Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters

The Lone Ranger: Directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, panned by the press and ignored by audiences, it actually isn’t bad. It would have been a lot better if the 150minutes had been trimmed down to 95.THE LONE RANGER

2 Guns: Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg bounce off each other well in this action buddy movie that is reminiscent of movies of the 80’s and 90’s like Lethal Weapon. Surprisingly good fun.2 Guns 10

About Time: Time travelling romantic comedy drama staring Domhnall (Brendan) Gleeson, Rachel McAdams (who interestingly also starred in The Time Traveller’s Wife). As fun, funny and charming as you would expect from a Richard Curtis. Bill Nighy is great plying his favourite character, Bill Nighy.About Time

Kick Ass 2: Containing all the elements that made Kick Ass great (except Nicolas Cage) but it all falls flat. There a few good moments but overall the film is a disappointing mess.Film Title: Kick-Ass 2

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Based on a popular series of books about a girl who discovers she may be a daemon hunter. It doesn’t have anything new or original to say but it is enjoyable enough fluff. A sequel, City of Ashes is set to start filing in a couple of weeks.The Mortal Instruments City of Bones

Elysium: Following District 9, his satire on race and xenophobia discussed as a sci-fi, Neill Blomkamp does the same for social equality and the poverty/wealth gap in the world today. Matt Damon is a dependable star, Jodie Foster makes a good villain (despite a distracting accent); Alice Braga and Diego Luna are sadly underused but Sharlto Copley and William Fichtner do exactly what you expect from them. The film looks stunning and the near two hour runtime flies by.Elysium

As is often the case, the movie of the month isn’t necessarily the best film of the month, but the most pleasantly surprising:conjuring-bannerThe Conjuring

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